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From the Editor by: Daniel Waugh

1907 was a year of remarkable coincidence. In March, after a winter of stunning discoveries in the desert, Aurel Stein arrived at the Mogao Caves near Dun-huang. After learning there of the "Library Cave," he returned to his excavations along the Dunhuang "limes," in the process uncovering the famous "Ancient Sogdian Letters." Back in Dunhuang, he would then pack off to London a major part of the treasures from what we now know as Cave 17. As readers of this newsletter know, the study of the Silk Road would never be the same.


To properly begin the story of the so-called Maikop treasure, one must say at least a little about M. A. Merle de Massoneau. The founder of the Bank of the Orient in Paris, he had worked for a long time as the director of the Russian royal vineyards in the Crimea and in the Caucasus. His position clearly indicates not only his material wealth, but also his high social status, and explains as well as the regular work-related trips he had to take between the Crimea (where he lived in Yalta) and the Caucasus.

During the nearly twenty years he lived in Russia, de Massoneau had amassed a truly enormous, unique collection.1 Several documents allow us to judge its size. Robert Zahn, a famous German archaeologist, for example, informs Berlin about de Massoneau’s collection: “The collection contains various Greek and Roman antiquities, typical for the south of Russia. Furthermore, it seems to me that the wares made during the time of the great migrations (golden decorations, etc.) are very good, the Islamic ancient objects as well as the medieval objects from Circassian tombs (a large collection of weapons) are all very rich.” ²

In Celebration of Aleksandr Leskov

Professor Aleksandr Leskov is known in Ukrainian and Russian archaeology as “Sasha the Golden Hand.” Indeed, gold jewelry and toreutic from his excavations in the Crimea and south Ukrainian steppes constitute a significant part of the collection in the Ukrainian Museum of National Treasures in Kiev, while his excavations on the northwestern Caucasus (Adygeia) formed the core of the “Golden Chamber” in the Moscow Museum of Oriental Art. Leskov is undoubtedly responsible for more discoveries of ancient gold than any living Scythian archaeologist.

Given that the odds of finding true treasures in archaeological excavations are about the same as for winning a major lottery jackpot, everybody unavoidably asks: what is the secret of Leskov’s never-fading luck? The truth is, there are no miracles which lead to buried treasure. At least three serious factors have always significantly increased the probability of Leskov’s success.


The legends of the Amazons and their battles with the Greeks were popular subjects of ancient Greek art. Images of lone Amazons, of combat between an Amazon and a Greek hero, of general battle scenes,2 and occasionally of more amicable meetings appear in vase painting, sculpture, and other forms of art. The earliest representation known was made about 700 BCE [Schefold 1966, pp. 24-25, plate 7b]. The subjects appeared frequently in the fifth century BCE, eventually rivaling the popularity of depictions of centaurs [Encyclopedia Britannica (1957)].

Did Amazons really exist? Many modern writers deem them to be mythical beings as are the satyrs and centaurs. Others believe them to be symbols of the Persian or other peoples menacing the Greek borders and colonies. Still others believe that they may have been members of matriarchal societies of the Bronze Age.

Archaeological GIS in Central Asia

The following short articles describe the current state of several projects developing archaeological applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Chinese Turkestan (Xinjiang). Taken together, it is hoped that they point to some of the potential applications of GIS in Central Asia.

Archaeological GIS and Oasis Geography in the Tarim Basin

The "pivot of Asia," as Lattimore called Chinese Turkestan (more prosaically the modern Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region), is an area where a great deal of ancient history, and especially prehistory, remains uncharted. At its center lies the Tarim Basin and the Taklamakan desert (Fig. 1), an immense and harsh landscape of sand dunes, pebble deserts, and salt flats. But along the foothills and at "terminal deltas" where rivers end in the desert, for millennia oasis settlements have flourished which were culturally and geographically tied at once to China, South Asia, western Central Asia, and the Eurasian steppe.

Ever since the signature of the Archaeological Convention between the French Republic and the Afghan kingdom in 1922, French archaeologists have expressed an interest in Bamiyan. In his first report on the archaeological remains of Afghanistan, Alfred Foucher, who had played a major role in drafting the convention, had underlined the importance of conducting archaeological studies in Bamiyan.

An Archaeological GIS of the Surkhan Darya Province (Southern Uzbekistan)

This article presents some of the results of a long-term project undertaken by the author within the framework of the MAFOuz de Bactriane.1 It will be focused on the use of GIS for data organisation2 and the potential that this offers for developing and testing new models and theories.


Methods and Perspectives for Ancient Settlement Studies in the Middle Zeravshan Valley

The "Archaeological Map of the Middle Zeravshan Valley" Project, begun in 2001 [Shirinov and Tosi 2003], is a cooperation between the Institute of Archaeology of Samarkand and the Department of Archaeology of the University of Bologna. It was created and evolves with two main aims: the study of the ancient population and settlement dynamics of the Middle Zeravshan Valley (Fig.1), and the recovery, preservation and enhancing of Samarkand and its territory. This brief description will be concerned with the first.


Reasoning with GIS : Tracing the Silk Road and the Defensive Systems of the Murghab Delta (Turkmenistan)

Over the past fifteen years, a major joint Italian-Russian- Turkmen project has enabled the creation of an archaeological GIS of the Murghab delta. This project has involved some fifty different specialists, resulting in numerous studies and a preliminary project publication [Gubaev et al. 1998]. The GIS is still under construction. However, it already includes over 1000 sites with associated archaeological data and a great deal of cartographic and other geographical information. The project evolved at a time when GIS was only just starting to be applied to archaeology, and all information was classified in codified categories developed ad hoc for this purpose.


Evolving the Archaeological Mapping of Afghanistan

The application of GIS to the archaeological mapping of Afghanistan offers an excellent means of evolving a new platform for synthesizing and interpreting data, for assessing and monitoring the preservation of sites, and for the eventual collection of new data. In conjunction with other Central Asian GIS projects, it can also form a tool with which to study historical human geography within and across the region, and themes such as the evolution of settlement patterns and cultural interactions across the Iranian plateau and Central Asia. The GIS described in this section is a first step in this direction, containing over 2000 sites and associated data sets, derived from the Archaeological Gazetteer of Afghanistan [Ball 1982], the French surveys in eastern Bactria [Gardin 1998; Lyonnet 1997; Gentelle 1989] and other sources.


Storing and Sharing Central Asian GIS: The Alexandria Archive

While GIS and related technologies are revolutionizing archaeology and related disciplines, they present their own challenges. Vast amounts of data are generated in digitizing regional data-sets, and in contemporary techniques of data collection in "digital" archaeology. Projects that use GIS, such as those described in this section, are a case in point. A single archaeological excavation or survey can produce literally thousands of digital photos, maps, plans, drawings, analyses, databases and reports. Archaeologists produce all this information because such detailed recording and observation is fundamental to understanding the past.


The Search for the Origins of the Jew's Harp

As a player of the musical instrument known as the Jew's or jaws harp, the two most frequent questions asked by my audience are, "How did it get its name?" and "Where does it come from?" One of the challenging and, at times, frustrating aspects of researching popular instruments is the lack of reference material we have to work with. Early writers simply did not think the instrument worthy of comment, or if they did it was often in derisory terms, not meriting serious study and, like many throw-away items, once the novelty had worn off or the instrument had been broken, it was discarded. Nevertheless, we have enough information to help us understand an instrument manufactured and played worldwide...


Excavation and Survey in Arkhangai and Bulgan Aimaqs, Mongolia July 20-August 17, 2005

For the summer of 2005, the Silkroad Foundation, in conjunction with the Department of Archaeology at the Mongolian National University, will be sponsoring excavation and survey in Arkhangai and Bulgan aimaqs, Mongolia. You are invited to join in the first season of this collaborative project.

The field directors for this project are Dr. Mark Hall (Archaeological Research Facility, University of California, Berkeley) and Dr. Zagd Batsaihan (Department of Archaeology, Mongolian National University). Dr. Hall has excavated in Bulgan aimaq in 1996 and 1998, while Dr. Batsaihan has worked in these aimaqs since the early 1990s.

The main focus of the research will be looking at Xiongnu cemeteries and possible Xiongnu settlements in these two aimaqs.



a look at up coming events and conferences...